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01/22/2020  — 

Why is Agile Popular?

Believe it or not- I've been trying to invest a little more time writing lately. Part of this motivation comes from working on stories highlighting capabilities and success that the Lab Zero team has had in working with our clients. The ice-age this-here personal blog has experienced will warm, maybe even thaw. I recently put a quick answer onto Quora and figured I'd capture it here too.

Question: Why is Agile So Popular?

Short answer: Agile is not popular.

My answer will focus on the software world but there are many other ways to tell this story without the software focus.

The promise of Agility is awfully alluring for roles close to the work in a typical org: product managers, designers, and engineers. The way Agile prefers 'individuals & interactions' over 'tools & process' breathes fresh air into a normally stifled environment. Many see Agiles focus on working software over documentation as the right priority for a product team. Any product team will feel like theyre driving value into their company when theyre able to respond to change rather than merely follow a plan. Benefits abound for teams who wants a sustainable pace of work and a high level of accountability. Benefits abound for organizations who want unstoppable, self-organizing teams to drive value.

There are of course real practical challenges in moving a team to a new way of working in companies that havent already made the leap into Agility. Most people in the software world have encountered these challenges at some point in their career: people get tripped-up on writing / sizing / accepting stories, overloading sprints, and so on and so on. The friction that slows and challenges a teams adoption of Agile is real - even if a transformation is well funded and supported with coaches & experts.

But wait, theres more - all this agility must happen in the context of delivering software and driving results for a business. Chances are theres someone in the PMO (not to pick on Program Management) who wants some predictability in planning a portfolio of work. They have genuine needs involving knowing when reliable work will be delivered. The predictability they seek is critical to the success of the business. Even though Agile programs can be predictable, many aren't at first. How patient can a business be before it sees results from an investment in agility? (spoiler: not very patient)

Here's where it gets tricky- unless someone brings the leadership along, the agile transformation will fail. The work of connecting a plan with a vision forces leadership to take what can feel like a trust-fall. If you've ever helped a leader through their 'trough of despair' in adopting new tricks, you've seen why many agile transformations fail. Investment that doesn't serve a business is waste. No leader can waste time or money in pursuit of agility if it's not showing a benefit.

Most agile transformations fail at one of these levels: team, portfolio planning, leadership. Transformations will fail because teams lack clear signals showing where to focus training. Teams need access to experts in product management, design, and engineering - not just coaches. They will fail because planners aren't supported in working with agile teams. They will fail because leaders haven't bought-into their role in an agile organization. They will fail because leaders haven't seen the benefit to the business.

Sounds pretty bleak, huh? Well that's why you're on Quora, right? When I say 'fail' here I mean that the promise or potential of Agile is never realized. Instead, an organization will settle for some blend of old and new. If they're lucky they can see some small benefit. But the story doesn't have to be this bleak. With access to expertise (from outside the organization) and commitment (within) to driving change, any company at any scale can reach it.

Agile is a rare, beautiful thing - and really totally invisible to the people within it when working its best. I suspect very few software professionals will ever encounter this in their careers. Agile is not popular, but it's worth pursuing.

Go see it in the wild: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-Agile-so-popular/answer/Chris-Greacen

01/07/2009  — 

Espresso. Pulled, Not Stirred

I got a kick out of this blatant product placement. I think the editor mis-cut the milk foaming shot...